13 Geo. J. on Poverty L. & Pol'y 545 (2006)
Nowhere to go: The Impacts of City Ordinances Criminalizing Homelessness

handle is hein.journals/geojpovlp13 and id is 551 raw text is: Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy
Volume XIII, Number 3, Fall 2006
Nowhere to Go: The Impacts of City Ordinances
Criminalizing Homelessness
Donald Saelinger*
INTRODUCTION
While homelessness has been a constant presence in American cities through-
out the past generation, the portrayal and treatment of the homeless has shifted
dramatically since the 1980s.' During the 1980s, when central cities across the
nation were in disrepair and decline,2 homelessness was widely viewed as the
most critical social issue in urban America.3 The public debate at the time dealt
with how to identify and implement long-term solutions to homelessness,
including the provision of adequate shelter and stable income.4 Two complemen-
tary trends in urban America changed this debate: the revitalization of down-
towns and the increase of compassion fatigue'5 towards the poor. These trends
have shifted cities' efforts to address homelessness from the more humane
treatment of the homeless to the creation of anti-nuisance laws that make the
homeless population less visible and less intrusive to urban residential and
business communities.6
The passage of anti-nuisance laws has been a nationwide phenomenon. A 2002
survey of fifty municipal codes and police practices in the nation's largest cities
found without exception that every city had imposed some type of restraint on the
use of public space, but had not provided a sufficient number of shelter beds or
* J.D., Georgetown University Law Center (2006).
1. Gary Blasi, And We Are Not Seen: Ideological and Political Barriers to Understanding
Homelessness, 37 AM. BEHAV. SCIENTIST 563, 569-75 (1994) [hereinafter Blasi, Not Seen] (comparing
elite attitudes toward the homeless, public opinion polls, and newspaper articles in New York City from
the early 1980s with articles in the early 1990s).
2. See, e.g., MIKE DAVIS, CITY OF QUARTZ: EXCAVATING THE FUTURE IN Los ANGELES 300-09 (1990);
Paul A. Jargowsky & Mary Jo Bane, Ghetto Poverty in the United States, 1970-1980, in THE URBAN
UNDERCLASS 235, 251-70 (Christopher Jencks & Paul E. Peterson eds., 1991); MICHAEL B. KATz, THE
UNDESERVING POOR: FROM THE WAR ON POVERTY TO THE WAR ON WELFARE 128-37 (1989).
3. Blasi, Not Seen, supra note 1, at 572.
4. See Maria Foscarinis, Beyond Homelessness: Ethics, Advocacy, and Strategy, 12 ST. Louis U. PUB.
L. REV. 37,44-50 (1993).
5. Compassion fatigue is generally defined as a decrease in public support of an issue due to the
issue's entrenchment or stagnation. See Melissa Guzicki & Paul A. Toro, Changes in Public Opinion on
Homelessness from 1994 to 2001, Presentation at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological
Association (2002), http://sun.science.wayne.edu/ptoro/mgapa3.pdf.
6. NAT'L COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS, ILLEGAL TO BE HOMELESS: THE CRIMINALIZATON OF
HOMELESSNESS IN THE UNITED STATES 4 (2004) [hereinafter ILLEGAL TO BE HOMELESS].

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